Mona Charen
What was the worst moment of the 2012 presidential race? Was it Donald Trump's slow-motion striptease about entering the contest? Michelle Bachmann's invocation of "government needles" being "pushed into innocent girls"? Was it Newt Gingrich's promise to fund "American" lunar settlements by 2020? (I called them "Newtist colonies on the moon.") Obama's Joe Soptic commercial accusing Romney of causing a woman to die of cancer? Romney's 47 percent comment revealed? Perry's brain freeze? Joe Biden's warning to a black audience that Republicans want to "put y'all back in chains" or his foaming-at-the-mouth debate performance?

Feeling inspired at the pageant of American presidential politics? The question some Republicans and conservatives are asking is whether there is a way to avoid these banana-peel slips next time. Democrats have made their share of embarrassing mistakes, too (as partially noted above), but the dismaying reality is that Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential contests. Some, including RNC chief Reince Priebus, are seeking structural fixes. Does the prolonged fundraising and primary process cause us to wind up with second-rate candidates who don't represent the Republican grass roots very well and cannot win general elections?

Jeffrey H. Anderson and Jay Cost believe so. Writing in the summer issue of National Affairs, they argue that the current primary system arose by "accident and afterthought." It was actually designed by the Democrats -- an effort by the New Left to subvert the power of big labor, southern pols and big-city mayors (the figures who occupied the storied "smoke-filled rooms"). Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic candidate in 1968 without entering a single primary. The reformers proposed more caucuses, which could be dominated by activists. The old guard pushed back with demands for primaries. They compromised on a combination of the two. Republicans basically went along for the ride, agreeing to hold their own caucuses/primaries on the same day for convenience.

The result is a carnival that is absurdly lengthy and demanding. Serious candidates commit to no less than two years of full-time fundraising and campaigning. This ridiculous schedule virtually excludes candidates who have important jobs (governors, cabinet secretaries) and offers unfortunate advantages to the independently wealthy or those with connections to the wealthy and to the new mandarin class -- the consultants.

Anderson and Cost argue that "the current mess" also affords a frolic for fringe candidates with no money and no reasonable chance of success to indulge vanity campaigns that elevate their profiles while diminishing the process as a whole.


Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
 
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